I don’t often mention it on the blog but Indian cuisine has become one of my favourites in the recent years. I especially love eating Indian Roti Canai with lightly spicy curry. Something about it is so immensely satisfying I can’t even put it to words. I just love this duo particularly, but I’m a fan of Indian dishes in general because they are so full of flavours that jump out at you in a good way, with the sauces capturing all the flavours for you to savour. I really like dishes that have some sauciness to them.
Despite liking Indian food I haven’t been cooking a lot of it at home. I simply don’t have enough of their spices to do home-cooked Indian food any justice. So while I’m trying to build up my spice rack, I figured I’d take some Indian cooking baby steps and start with some simple Indian soft rotis (aka phulka) to pair up with a little something else easy I whipped up.
Just like a diligent student I first did a bit of reading up on this particular type of bread, the phulka, which are basically unleavened flat breads that are cooked directly over heat until they puff. (I’m planning on making my favourite Roti Canai next and I’m super excited already!) Watching the roti puff up is definitely the best part of all this, as I’ll be showing you a little later on.
I’m not a roti-making expert and I myself am still learning how to make these breads, so I’m going to apologize in advance to any roti masters who will stumble upon this post if I’m lacking in any way. I wanted simply to share my experiences on my first attempt making this, as well as some pointers that I found helpful.
As I mentioned, I learned a bunch of tips as I was reading up on this, mostly from the blogs Indian Simmer and Veg Recipes of India, and most of them focused on how you can keep the dough soft so that the resulting phulka is not tough to eat. I was really nervous about that aspect, but I’m always up for the challenge of making breads so it was a good kind of nervous energy; one that held a lot of excited anticipation.
You start with just three basic ingredients: the whole wheat flour and salt in a bowl, then slowly you add your liquid, be it warm water of milk, until your dough comes together. Mix it by hand so you can get a feel of the dough and how moist it is already because we don’t want to add too much or too little liquid.
Apparently, to make a soft dough you can use hot water or milk in place of regular water. I have not tried using all milk, but when I made this I used more milk than water because it makes sense that milk would lend more moisture to the dough. I haven’t tried using hot water but be careful if you decide to go this route as it might burn your hands. Use a wooden spoon first until the dough becomes manageably warm.
The next tip was to make sure to knead the dough very well. Mix the dough together until you are sure that every bit of liquid has been absorbed by the flour. The dough should not be dry but it shouldn’t be wet either. Instinct comes into play here! If the dough is too hard or too wet it will not puff up at all!
The measurement provided in the recipe is 1 to 1½ cups of liquid but I used pretty close to 1½ cups (1 cup milk and about half a cup of water) before I was satisfied with the softness of my dough. I stopped when my dough was moist and pliable but still firm, with no dry streaks of flour anywhere on the dough. It was also quite smooth and not sticky. I found the dough very easy to handle.
Now I form the dough into a ball and leave it for 30 minutes covered with a kitchen towel. I read that this was a crucial step to help the roti become soft and to rest the gluten somewhat.
Once ready to roll, I divided the dough. I cut mine into 2-inch pieces and this makes about 10 pieces of 7-inch roti. I feel like making bigger roti will also create softer ones as they will tend to puff up more. Make sure to roll out the roti dough as evenly as you can so it will cook and puff up evenly. Don’t roll it out too thin or it will not puff up, and don’t make it too thick either or it might not cook through.
I know my roti look terrible here, but these pictures were taken from a while back and I’ve since become a whole lot better at rolling out dough into rounds. The technique I use is to divide the big dough into smaller rounds, then I flatten the small rounds with my palm first. I then rotate the dough as I push the rolling pin outward, going all the way around. This helps to ensure that all sides are evenly rolled out, and it also helps to keep the shape of the dough round. (I’ll make an updated post when I try out other round flatbreads.)
Once you’ve rolled out your dough, cover it with some cloth to prevent drying. If you can roll perfect rounds quickly and easily you might want to simultaneously heat the skillet as you roll out the next pieces of dough to prevent the roti from too much exposure to air.
Clearly this isn’t a very traditional walk-through as I cooked my roti on a skillet. I don’t own a tava. I was at first thinking about cooking my roti on open fire, but that scares me a little. While this is part of the normal way of cooking it (and apparently makes it softer), cooking on a skillet is okay too. The rotis will still puff in the skillet as long as you apply a bit of pressure on the surface of the roti using your spatula as you cook each side.
Cook the first side of the prepared dough for about 20 seconds until small bubbles form on the surface. I press the dough with my spatula a bit against the skillet to brown it a little before flipping.
The other side gets cooked a good 30 seconds, at which point the rotis will puff!
Another tip I read is that once the phulka have puffed don’t let it stay in the skillet for too long or it’ll turn hard. Anyway at this point it will be nicely browned in some areas. Cooked phulka should be wrapped in a kitchen towel to keep them soft.
I read that applying a tiny but of oil or ghee on the cooked roti will help it maintain its softness, but don’t put too much or they might end up oily! I accidentally smothered one of my phulka and ended up having to wipe it all off so I decided to keep the rest of my phulka oil-less and they turned out fine anyway as long as they maintain their warmth inside the kitchen towel wrapping they hide in.
My only complaint is that my whole wheat flour was a bit too white to my liking. It did not create the brownish tinge I like on rotis, so I’ll try to find some better non-bleached whole wheat flour for next time I make this. Preferably after learning a thing or two from someone who specializes on Indian food.
Homemade Phulka (Indian Soft Roti)
- 3 cups whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting
- Pinch of salt
- 1 to 1½ cups water, or a mix of water and milk
- 1. Place flour and salt in a bowl and start by adding the liquid into the flour little by little. Mix it together by hand to be able to get a feel of how the flour is absorbing water.
- 2. Once the dough begins to come together, knock it down with your fist as you knead it in the bowl to help the gluten form. This will make rolling out the dough easier. Make sure the dough is kneaded well until soft and pliable. The dough should be smooth and just rightly moist, but not too soft and wet. Shape dough into a ball and leave in the bowl, covered with a wet kitchen towel, and let rest for 30 minutes. This will help make it softer.
- 3. After resting, place the dough on a lightly floured surface that’s closest to the stove, and cut the dough into pieces depending on preferred size. (I cut mine into 2-inch pieces and this makes about 10 pieces of 7-inch roti.) Roll the pieces of dough into balls.
- 4. Working with one ball of dough at a time, sprinkle a bit of flour on top of the dough to make sure it doesn’t stick to the rolling pin. Roll out the dough into flat round shapes, rotating the dough as you roll outward to help keep it round. Don’t worry about it looking perfect, the important thing is no to roll it out too thick (or it will not cook properly) or too thin (it will not puff up). Cover up rolled dough with a kitchen towel to prevent drying, but DO NOT stack the dough.
- 5. Preheat a clean nonstick skillet. A test to see if the skillet is ready to cook roti is to sprinkle a bit of flour on the pan. If it becomes dark quickly then it is ready.
- 6. Take one piece of flattened dough and place in the skillet. Cook the first side for 15 to 20 seconds, or until you see small bubbles form on the surface. I like to use a spatula to press the roti onto the surface of the skillet to help brown it a bit more evenly before flipping.
- 7. Cook the second side for 30 seconds, in which time the rotis will puff up. The rotis will have browned nicely all over by this time. Flip it as necessary but don’t let it cook too much once roti has puffed up or else it might become hard. Remove from heat and wrap up in a kitchen towel to help keep it soft. (You can also brush with the tiniest bit of ghee or oil to maintain softness.) Proceed with the next flat piece of dough.
- 8. If you are able, while waiting for the second dough to cook, roll out your third dough. It will get easier the more pieces of dough you roll out, but if you’re nervous about overcooking the roti in the pan, having a person assist you with the cooking helps.
- 9. Serve the roti warm, with a side of curry, dal, or your favourite Indian stew.